Originally posted by JS357
Can anyone recommend a good unbiased resource, for getting a start on understanding them? When I was a kid I was taught that the former deified the Buddha or glorified him as a transcendent being and the latter, (called Hinayana) didn't. Apparently "Hinayana" is a derogatory term applied by the Mahayana side, meaning "lesser vehicle" although I was taught it w ...[text shortened]... version, because it didn't deify the Buddha so much. So you can see how far I have to go.
Methinks Hinayana is not a derogatory term; and unbiased resources are a rare bird, so I can only show my 2 cents. Then I can give you bibliography as regards the topics they seem interesting to you.
All Buddhist traditions are focused on a single task: to help the individual give an end to suffering and achieve buddhahood. How? By means of analyzing reality properly, leaving metaphysics aside and using concrete logic.
When the Mahayana philosophers state that the phenomenal world is an illusion, they do not mean that we imagine non-existent subjects, objects and phenomena; they mean that whatever we perceive as “an objective subject that exists on its own being separated from everything else” is the result of a non accurate evaluation of the reality.
The phrase “Nirvana is bliss”, means not that when somebody achieves nirvana he will envelop an immovable, stable stature and a heart full of peace and joy. “Nirvana is bliss” means that the individual, who understands the nature of the absolute reality, knows that “the Floating World is triggered into being by thought”.
The phrase “Conceive the nature of the Dharmas and become a Buddha” does not mean that the individual has to understand the teachings of Gautama Buddha in order to become “pure and overcome suffering”. This state is merely a prerequisite; the meaning of the phrase is that the individual has to see on his own that the nature of the Dharmas is empty. Etc etc.
According to the Mahayanists, the inability to proceed this way is the agent that leads the practitioners of Theravada to go deeper. Liberation (of suffering, illusion, attachment etc etc) is dual: liberation from ego and liberation from the Dharmas. Since there are many levels of understanding, Buddha teached the doctrine of no-self at the level of the absolute reality although ego exists at the level of the Floating World. The Elder Brothers (the Theravada practitioners) analyze the doctrine of no-self solely at the level of the Floating World, so they fail to see that this approach is used in order to help the individual break free from samsara.
Furthermore, Theravada holds that Dharmas are real whilst Mahayana holds that they are empty (Chico Komatsu, The Way Of Piece: The Life and Teachings of Buddha, Hokozun Publishing Co, Tokyo 1984). Theravada holds that nirvana (cessation of all thoughts during constant cultivation of morality, as for example is pointed out by Paravahera Vajiranana Mahathera at Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice, Buddhist Missionary Society 1975) is inexplicable and, as such, one has to feel it in order to get to know it. However, Mahayana holds that nirvana is not “cessation” but a direct grasp of the absolute reality.
Every Buddhist accepts that there are as many realities as (many are the) sentient beings (that perceive them). The different approaches gave rise to the main Buddhist schools during three phases: Hinayana presentation (it presents the fundamental teaching and practices that form the essential basis for the practice of all the techniques and methods that lead to the path to enlightenment; from the 18 Hinayana schools, the remaining version is Theravada), Mind-Only presentation (Yogacara-Chittamatra) and The Middle Way presentation (Madhyamaka, divided into Svatantrika: the Autonomy School that employs arguments involving the provisional attribution of substantiality, and Prasangika: the Consequence School that employs reductio ad absurdum arguments and thus avoiding all attributions to substantiality).
To better understand Theravada and Mahayana and their differences, first consider Bodhi (Ultimate Reality, or Mind, or Buddha Nature/ singularity, not manifested ground of Reality) and Dharma (Tao/ The Way/ collapsing of the wavefunction, phenomena). Bodhi and Dharma together is just the Propensity of the Mind.
According to specific Mahayana (Madhyamaka, Yogacara-Chittamatra, Zen) traditions, Bodhi is not an extraneous transcendental concept but an immanent reality, therefore self and the mundane world have all the qualities of transcendence (only our conditioning/ our modification of the mind make us believe that this –Floating– World and the Self are mundane). Since the Bodhi is immanent and the Self sublime, there cannot be Manifestation and Dissolution, because all is Bodhi. Therefore, the practitioners of those traditions conceive nirvana not the same way as the Elder Brothers. Since they dismiss the concept of a transcendental Bodhi that causes the notion of Creation and Dissolution, the Madhyamikas and the Zennists accept that the immanent Bodhi Reality in its mundane state ideates this world of experience or Reality.
In contrast, the Elder Brothers hold the belief that the Cosmic Breath gave the initial stir within the Cosmic Absolute, after the occurrence of Primordial thought or Logos, to propel Genesis. But according to the Ch’an (Zen) tradition, the Primordial Prana (Cosmic Breath/ Wind) does not emanate; the so called “emanation” that the people use to believe (as inherently existent), occurs due to an experience of the conditioned (karmic) mind. Since all there ever was and will be is just Bodhi, the Zennists focus their point of attention on BodhiDharma. In fact, according to all Buddhist schools, the Cosmic Breath triggers "Creation" occuring in the Void (Sunya/ Sunyata). So, since Bodhi is an immanent reality, this Manifestation does not unfurl but occurs. Therefore, we do not manifest but we merely exist in the Bodhi realm, whilst our karmic conditioning makes us believe that we are in a manifested mundane world. This is the reason why the Zen transmission is just this: “A special transmission outside the scriptures, not founded upon words and letters; By pointing directly to Mind. It lets one see into nature and attain Buddhahood”. Buddha picked the flower and Kasyapa smiled, that is.
Theravada has mainly a single soteriological purpose: out of love and compassion, the Elder Brothers wanted to turn the disciple into an arahant.
Madhyamaka cuts through the Floating World and, by means of constant negations, demonstrates that all phenomena are just a (quantum) karmic (Quantum Cause-Effect ) product and that thus they are empty (of inherent existence). Therefore, it holds that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing is inappropriate.
Zen builds fully on the Madhyamaka, aiming to turn the disciple towards BodhiDharma. Yogacara finally accepted that the Madyamaka is accurate.
Vajrayana (1.Nyingma-pa, 2.Sarma-pa -divided into the Sakya-pa and the Kagyu-pa- and 3.Gelug-pa), is Tibetan and mystic. Nyingma-pa techniques for the attainment of enlightenment include chanting of magical spells, special hand gestures and mystical diagrams. Sakya-pa uses both exoteric and esoteric teachings. Kagyu-pa builds on sutras and tantras. Gelug-pa holds the belief that a Buddha is omnipresent in the Floating World, since out of compassion for the sentient beings he foregone nirvana.
And Maras? It is just a metaphor used in order to describe processes that obstruct enlightenment (the shifting of the point of one’s attention to the desired focus)